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Morsi seizes broad powers in Egypt: What does US do now?

A decree this week by Egyptian President Mohamed Morsi essentially makes him a dictator, critics say. They call for US action. But the Obama administration might give him some leeway.

By Staff writer / November 25, 2012

Egyptian President Mohammed Morsi speaks to supporters outside the presidential palace in Cairo on Friday.

Egyptian Presidency/AP


Egyptian President Mohamed Morsi's decision this week to make himself above the rule of law has put the Obama administration in a tight spot.

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Mr. Morsi, who has links to Islamist groups looked upon with suspicion by the West, was never Washington's first choice to lead a post-Arab Spring Egypt. But President Obama made a clear choice to allow the Egyptian people to chart their own course, thinking that interference would only undermine the goal of a truly democratic Egypt.  

Now, it seems, that choice could potentially blow up in Mr. Obama's face. A day after brokering a cease-fire in the Israel-Hamas conflict, Morsi took a step that could make him as much of an autocrat as his US-friendly successor, Hosni Mubarak. The implication for US and the West seemed clear: peace with Israel, but at the price of Egyptian democracy.

The Washington Post's Jennifer Rubin summed up the worst American fears in her Right Turn blog: "The Arab Spring in Egypt looks a whole lot like the Hosni Mubarak tin-pot dictatorship, minus the secularism, good relationship with Israel and reliable partnership with the West. In other words, Egypt now may have Mubarak-style oppression plus Islamist rule."

So the question for Washington now is what to do – if anything.

For Republican hawks like Sen. John McCain (R) of Arizona, who were never comfortable with Obama's relatively hands-off approach, it could be time for America to start pulling some levers. That means perhaps withholding the billions of dollars in aid that the US gives to Egypt, as well as pulling its support from international efforts to forgive Egyptian debt and to give Egypt a $4.8 billion loan from the International Monetary Fund.

"What should the United States of America do, they should be saying, 'This is unacceptable,' " said Senator McCain on Fox News Sunday. " 'This is not what American taxpayers expect, and our dollars will be directly related to the progress toward democracy, which you promised the people of Egypt when you were elected president.' "

Conservatives are already looking askance at the president's response to Morsi's declaration. Chris Wallace, the host of Fox News Sunday, characterized the Obama administration statement on the subject as "very tepid."


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